Here's Why Alabama's New Abortion Law Is So Unpopular

Even some Republicans and opponents of abortion rights say the state's new law goes too far.

Alabama’s strict new abortion law is deeply unpopular, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds. There’s a simple reason for that: Most Americans don’t hold absolutist opinions on abortion, and even fewer hold views as unwaveringly anti-abortion as the legislation itself.

Just 31% of Americans say they approve of Alabama’s new abortion law, described in the poll as outlawing nearly all abortions in the state with an exception for cases when the woman’s life is at serious risk but not for cases of rape or incest. The majority, 57%, disapprove.

The Alabama law also stands on the wrong side of a sizable intensity gap: Just 19% of Americans strongly approve of the law, while 43% strongly disapprove.

The abortion bill, which Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed into law last week, is the strictest in the nation, making it a felony in the state for a doctor to perform an abortion in nearly all cases. The law is set to take effect in six months, but it faces a slew of legal challenges, with even many supporters expecting it might ultimately be blocked.

The law has little support among Democrats and self-described liberals, and a majority of political independents and self-described moderates also disapprove.

But the law also owes its unpopularity in part to the fact that it’s managed to draw the disapproval of a significant minority even among groups that are generally anti-abortion rights. A quarter of Americans who say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases also disapprove of the law, as do about a third of Republicans, self-described evangelical Christians and self-described conservatives.

That reflects the concerns voiced by some GOP leaders. Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) said he didn’t support the Alabama law. Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), who called the legislation “extreme,” said she expected to see it overturned in the courts. Even President Donald Trump said over the weekend that he backed exceptions for rape and incest, although he urged abortion opponents to stay united on the issue.

Even Americans who describe themselves as pro-life are generally supportive of abortion rights in some circumstances. Per polling done by Gallup, more than three-quarters of Americans, including 57% of those who describe themselves as “pro-life,” support abortion in the case of rape or incest.

Of course, some people will prove entirely willing to accept new limits on abortion, even if those limits are more restrictive than they’d consider ideal. But Alabama’s law is so harsh that it puts the fulcrum of the debate far to the right of public opinion on the issue.

“What’s important for the current discussion is that [Alabama] isn’t a middle of the road case ― by drawing no line for rape and incest, it’s set the terms of debate in a very bad place for GOP,” tweeted Democratic pollster Jeff Liszt.

A caution on abortion polling

A couple of caveats should guide any assumptions about how the battle over Alabama’s law will play out politically.

First, and most importantly, the HuffPost/YouGov survey is only one poll. That matters especially because Americans’ opinions on abortion are highly nuanced, and thus highly sensitive to small variations in question wording. In Gallup’s polling, for instance, just under half of Americans describe themselves as pro-choice, and only 29% say abortion should be legal under any circumstances, but 64% say Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.

Second, although Alabama’s abortion law has sparked a national debate, it’s still a law passed by one state. National-level polls, unfortunately, don’t do a great job of telling us how the law will be received in Alabama, and there isn’t much new state-level data yet to help.

Previous surveys do provide some idea of what reception the law might face. On one hand, they tell us that Alabama is among the states with the lowest support for legalized abortion in the nation. On the other, a recently released internal survey ― conducted last spring for Planned Parenthood by a Democratic pollster, so, appropriate grain of salt ― found that only 31% of Alabama midterm voters described their preferred abortion policy as one that didn’t make exceptions for rape or incest.

Anzalone Liszt Grove Research

Views on abortion are divided by party, not gender ― with one big exception

Although national abortion surveys don’t always agree, they do consistently find that the main dividing line on abortion is political. That might sound obvious. But abortion wasn’t always highly polarized: As recently as 1991, Democrats and Republicans were about equally likely to say that any woman who wanted an abortion should be able to get one. Since then, the parties have veered sharply in opposite directions.

In the HuffPost/YouGov survey, Republicans are 41 points likelier than Democrats to approve of the Alabama law. Voters who backed Trump in the last election are 55 points likelier to approve of the law than are voters who backed Hillary Clinton in 2016.

There’s also a significant religious gap: Self-described evangelical Christians are 34 points likelier than the rest of the public to support the Alabama law. That persists even when controlling for party. Republican evangelicals, for instance, are 38 points more supportive of the law than are Republicans who don’t describe themselves that way.

In contrast, by most metrics, there’s virtually no division along gender lines. A near-identical 33% of men and 29% of women approve of the Alabama law. Men and women also have close to identical views on what kind of abortion laws they’d like to see passed in their own states. This parity, which is also consistent across recent polling, stands out especially because the past few years have found an increasing gender gap on other issues ranging from economic policy to opinions on the president.

But although Democratic-voting women may have similar views on abortion to Democratic-voting men, they place far more weight on the issue. Sixty-three percent of female Clinton voters say abortion issues will be very important to their presidential vote next year, while just a third of male Clinton voters place the same importance on abortion. (An identical 44% of both male and female Trump voters rate the issue as very important.)

About half of Americans say they know someone who’s had an abortion

A 44% plurality of Americans say it’s getting more difficult for a woman to get an abortion than it was four years ago. In May 2017, 34% said it was getting more difficult for women to get abortions.

About half of Americans, 49%, say they know someone who has had an abortion. Of that group, a fifth said they knew at least one person who had faced difficulties in making arrangements for the procedure. Eight percent of Americans report knowing someone who wanted to get an abortion but was unable to do so.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted May 15-16 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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